Board can't un-do pupil-free days

Some 10 district parents carried protest signs designed to make their feelings known, about 50 total parents attended the La Cañada school board meeting Tuesday in an unsuccessful bid to convince the board to rescind its decision to increase the number of pupil-free days from three to seven.

The decision to add four more pupil-free days for teacher collaboration was made in February as part of a new contract agreement with the La Cañada Teachers Association. A discussion on the matter was added to the agenda of Tuesday’s meeting at the request of several parents.

But Governing Board President Susan Boyd made it clear from the beginning that the decision couldn’t be overturned.

“This has become a part of the teacher contract. We cannot unilaterally change that contract. That would have significant legal ramifications,” said Boyd, explaining the discussion being held Tuesday was designed to clear up any misunderstandings or questions the community may have about the issue.

It didn’t stop the conversation between the board and members of the community, which lasted more than two hours, from getting heated at times. First, Boyd addressed the group of 50 or so people, comprising parents and district teachers, and answered a dozen questions that parents — mainly Ron Dietel, a former LCUSD board member — had asked the board at its June 21 meeting.

“Time is really important to parents and everybody because there's never enough of it,” said Dietel, an assistant director at the UCLA Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing.

Boyd stressed the teacher-collaboration days aren’t training days. The time will be used for teachers to work together, discuss one another’s successes, and learn how to take advantage of their peers’ experiences.

“The teachers are being asked, every year almost, to do more and more work in the same amount of time,” said Boyd, noting that the district had lengthened the amount of instructional time students receive by adding a few minutes to each day of school.

Two of the additional teacher-collaboration days will be used to train teachers on how to use a student-data management system called Illuminate DnA (data and assessment).

“The data will tell teachers where they will need to go back to refine their lessons or what students they need to go back and help,” Boyd said.

Board member Jeanne Broberg said the four additional pupil-free days, which are being implemented as a one-year trial for 2011-12, are important to keeping the district strong.

“This is a way we can keep ourselves second in the state [in standardized test results],” Broberg said.

Most of the parents who spoke said they are not opposed to teacher collaboration, but they are against losing four days of school for the students.

“Everybody accepts that teacher collaboration and professional development are good things, there is no debate about that; it's how you implemented it [cutting four school days],” said Daniel Lidar, a district parent.

Other parents wondered why it took so long for them to hear about the increase in pupil-free days.

“If this is so wonderful, why didn't we bring it out to the public right away?” said Richard Asher, a district parent.

Boyd said the board doesn’t have time to approach the community before every decision it makes and that there was no attempt to cover up the increase.

“We feel we have been charged with running the district to the best of our availability,” Boyd said. “We honestly don't know when one of our decisions will stir people up.”

Belinda Dong, a district parent, said she felt “very grateful” to be a part of the La Cañada community and LCUSD. She also spoke of an “unspoken contract” the board has to keep the community informed.

“Please, honor our unspoken contract,” Dong said. “We are more than willing to help you come to solutions.”

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